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Edgar Painter ("E.P.") Ellyson

By Clair Allen Budd, Asbury University


EDGAR PAINTER (“E.P.”) ELLYSON (1869 – 1954). The leading shaper of educational ministry within the Church of the Nazarene in its first 30 years. Raised in the Quaker tradition, Ellyson chose as a maturing adult to associate with the rising holiness movement of the early 20th century. Joining with the fledgling Church of the Nazarene in 1908, he served as one of three General Superintendents upon the founding of the denomination, as President and/or Professor in several of their colleges at various times, and as the first Editor-in-Chief of Church Schools for the denomination, for more than a decade. Ellyson was a prolific writer -- mostly works intended to equip congregational leaders and teachers for effective Christian education in their local settings.


Early Life and Education

Edgar P. Ellyson lived with his parents in Damascus, Ohio until age 21. His parents were devout Quakers, as was much of the community. Edgar attended a school owned and operated by the Quarterly Meeting of the Friends Church, working as a janitor to pay for his schooling, which he later considered a “favor” extended him by his parents. He was one of only two students to graduate that year, receiving a B.S. degree at the age of 19.  

The family was greatly influenced by the “Progressive” side of the Quaker movement, who borrowed some of their approaches to ministry from the Methodists. Later in life, Edgar recalled attending holiness camp meetings as a child, and that his home was thoroughly Christian. Ellyson was converted as a child, grew cold for a time (according to his own report), and was “reclaimed” (as Chapman describes it) at the age of 17. His home influence was so powerful that Edgar recalled, “I didn’t know the day I didn’t have a call to preach” (Akers, 1953, p. 8).

Joseph Ellyson, his dad, was a general merchant in town, and also postmaster. Edgar later recalled interacting with the variety of people who shopped at the family store, and how this impacted his ministry in his adult years.

    Following graduation from the Academy, he became a teacher in one of the country schools in the area. One year convinced him he didn’t want to become a public school teacher. He clerked in a grocery store, then at age 22 joined the staff of the nearby YMCA, and taught a Sunday School class at the local Friends Church – so successful in the latter that he was soon elected superintendent. Little did he know then the significant role he would later play in Sunday School.

    After these experiences, Ellyson attended Cleveland Bible Institute (now Malone University) for one year. He was very involved in student activities, particularly preaching at a student-led mission. He received considerable encouragement from President and Mrs. Malone. It was here that he met a young Canadian woman, Mary Emily Soul, who became his wife and lifelong partner in ministry, at the close of his first year at the Institute. Edgar was holding a revival meeting in Columbus, Ohio, when he called Mary to the platform, and they were married by a Methodist minister in attendance before Edgar went on with the service (Akers, 1953)!

    Ellyson the Preacher

    Ellyson was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1893. He pastored in Friends churches in NE Ohio for three years, and also held revival meetings as opportunity arose (Akers, 1953). His ministry was characteristically evangelistic, though he spoke of evangelism and education as “two faithful oxen… in the same yoke… hitched to the same load and pulling harmoniously together…” (Ellyson, Bible School Journal, p.1.).

    The career focus of E. P. Ellyson took a sharper turn to education in his late 20s, though he continued preaching and evangelizing, and occasionally pastoring, along with his roles in higher education and in denominational leadership. He always saw his core identity as a preacher, and continued preaching into retirement.

    Ellyson the Educator

    Ellyson ventured into ministry within higher education in the mid-1890s, persuaded by friends to pursue an opening to found and teach in a Quaker academy (Smith, 1962) in Marshalltown, Iowa, where he and Mrs. Ellyson served for the next eight years, along with holding revival meetings in neighboring towns in the summer months. It was here, too, that Ellyson began publishing, completing four “pamphlets” and “one complete theology” (Theological Compend) in these years. The latter work was the primary text in theology for a number of colleges in the holiness movement for several decades, and also served as a text for the course of study leading to ordination in the early Church of the Nazarene.

    The Ellysons moved to Texas, where Edgar became the second president of Peniel College / Texas Holiness University. The school achieved its highest enrollment to date during his five-year tenure. (His recruiting efforts resulted in enrollment gains in other schools where he served.) Edgar and Emily also provided leadership to the Bible and Theology departments of the school, and Edgar was personally responsible for chapel services.

    Ellyson served effectively in academic leadership roles at Nazarene University/Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University) [though see a negative view of Ellyson’s academic leadership in Kirkemo, Ronald B., For Zion’s Sake and Kirkemo, Ron, Promise & Destiny: Point Loma Nazarene University], Olivet College, Trevecca College (including a new school in Donalsonville, GA, that folded into Trevecca after one year, and Bresee College, successively. The only Nazarene colleges/universities existing during his lifetime (and which survived the initial flurry of schools in the first couple of decades of the denomination) where Ellyson did not serve as President or as theology faculty (and often both!) was Bethany College (though Peniel later merged with Bethany), Northwest Nazarene College in Idaho, and Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts. As early as 1911, Ellyson saw the need for “centralized direction of the church’s educational program” and developed a detailed plan to “curb institutional rivalries, promote the wise investment of available resources, and encourage higher academic standards” (Smith, 1962, p. 258).

    Chapman comments in his biographical sketch of Ellyson, speaking of his work in higher education: “Hundreds of young men and young women have received training for their life’s work under his direction, and have gone out to preach the gospel at home and in foreign lands. … in fact it would be impossible to judge the wideness of the influence of this good and great man, and it would be difficult to imagine a more profitable manner in which one could invest his life than the channel to which Dr. Ellyson has devoted himself” (Chapman, 1926, p. 146).

    Ellyson as Denominational Leader

    Edgar joined with the Church of the Nazarene in 1908, and later that year was elected to be one of three General Superintendents in the newly formed denomination. Having accepted the presidency of Nazarene University / Pasadena College, Ellyson decided to decline re-election to the Superintendency in 1911, and again in 1915, in order to give his life and energy primarily to educational work.

    In 1923, the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene decided to give greater attention to equipping local churches for effective educational ministry by forming a new Board within the denominational structure. Ellyson was the obvious person they turned to for leading this entity as Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday school publications of the denomination. He led the denomination in developing an organizational structure for educational ministry at the local church and denominational levels, and implemented changes resulting in significant increase in attendance and curriculum publications described by Purkiser (1983) as “a substantial contribution” and “phenomenal.” He moved the denomination into development of a graded curriculum for children -- a move praised by the General Board of the denomination as providing “for our church a program of Bible unexcelled” (Proceedings, 162).-- and produced a complete training program for church teachers, which conformed to the pattern developed by the International Council of Religious Education.

    Works Cited

      Much of the biographical information in this article comes from Akers, L.E. (1953). The life and works of E.P. and M. Emily Ellyson. Unpublished B.D. Thesis, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO.

      • Chapman, J.B. (1926). History of the Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
      • Church of the Nazarene. (1938). Proceedings of the general board of the Church of the Nazarene and its departments. Kansas City: Church of the Nazarene.
      • Cunningham, F., ed. with Ingersol, S.; Raser, H. E.; Whitelaw, D. P. (2009). Our watchword & song: The centennial history of the Church of the Nazarene. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press.
      • Ellyson, E.P. (1936, January 5). “True yokefellows,” Bible school journal, XXVI .
      • Ellyson, E.P. (1938). This is the will of God: Christian religious education.
      • Lynch, W. M. (1956). The rise of the Church of the Nazarene in Texas. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Stephen F. Austin State College.
      • Nease, O.J. (1938). Foreword, This is the will of God: Christian religious education.
      • Purkiser, W. T. (1983). Called unto holiness: The story of the Nazarenes: The second twenty-five years, Vol. 2. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
      • Smith, T.L. (1962). Called unto holiness: The story of the Nazarenes: The formative years. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.

      Contributions to Christian Education

      The contributions of Edgar Ellyson to the field of Christian Education, though his work may not be well known on a broader scale, were quite significant within the Church of the Nazarene. He was hitting his stride in ministry experience when he joined the new denomination in 1908, and the unique combination of skills he possessed (evangelism, pastoral ministry, teaching both in the church and in Christian colleges, as well as administrative leadership in both venues) were significant in the development and growth of the denomination.

        When the Church of the Nazarene decided in 1923 to elevate the profile of educational ministry in the local church, they turned to a proven leader – Ellyson – to serve as Director and Editor-in-chief. He served in this role with “prestige and competence” for 14 years (Ingersol, 148). Ellyson raised the profile for the church’s educational ministry in several respects: 1) broadening the view of Christian education beyond merely Sunday school; 2) lifting expectations for and of teachers; 3) developing a more robust curriculum; 4) expanding the connection of the still young Church of the Nazarene with the broader Protestant church; 5) resourcing Christian education in the local church; and 6) preparing ministry candidates for ordination.

        Ellyson was very intentional about helping church leaders see the “school” aspect of the church extend far beyond a Bible lesson in a Sunday morning classroom. He encouraged the development of weekday schools and vacation Bible schools. In the first five years of his tenure as Director of Church Schools / Editor-in-Chief, 306 new Vacation Bible Schools were formed in the denomination.

        High expectations of teachers in the church school was an issue Ellyson contended for vigorously, arguing that they should possess high personal integrity in order to be exemplars of the faith. “The work of religious education is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, works in which men may engage” (Study of the Teacher, 19). In addition, they should be students of the Bible, well-equipped with accurate understanding of God’s revelation. However, he didn’t end there, but called for teachers to also be students of how humans grow and learn. Ellyson rued the fact that society requires licensure of plumbers and other trades, but the church is slack in its requirements for teachers!

        The year following his appointment as Editor-in-Chief of Church Schools (1924), Ellyson developed a teacher training program for the denomination. The plan followed standards developed by the International Council of Religious Education (Teaching Agency, 169), and consisted of 12 units of study of 12 lessons each. Work was expected of students in the program, and such was graded, before certificates of completion were awarded. Four formats were available: correspondence course, local class, training institute, summer school or camp. Several of the textbooks were written by Ellyson, with well-known Nazarene theologian and educator H. Orton Wiley serving as co-author for A Study of the Pupil and Principles of Teaching.

        Ellyson, in a context where the “Bible lesson” was seen as the fundamental focus of curriculum, argued for a broader view. He borrowed a definition of “curriculum” from Dr. William Rainey Harper: “the sum total of those educational influences that enter into the direction and formation of Christian character” (Teaching Agency, 114). In a generation when evangelicals (as Nazarenes would characterize themselves) were reacting to “modern” or “liberal” views, Ellyson claimed that “the curriculum must be pupil-experience-centered” (116) and that “this Bible-centered material must be pupil-centered in arrangement” (119).

        Ellyson served as a bridge from the wider community of Christian educators to the young Nazarene denomination which possessed a tendency to be sectarian. He was known as a voracious reader, and his books often reflect this as he referred to many other writers of Christian education texts, particularly of an evangelical bent, in many of his own books. Following the lead of the International Council of Religious Education, Ellyson produced the first graded lessons in the Church of the Nazarene in 1925 in the Primary children’s curriculum, with other levels rolling out gradually thereafter (Akers ). A full twelve years prior to the Scopes trial in 1925, Ellyson produced his text, The Bible in Education, to address the issue of faith and science.

        Smaller congregations, often typical of Nazarene congregations in the early decades, struggled to make ends meet financially. Educational ministry often suffered in these congregations with a lack of resources and with limited facilities. Ellyson, in his denominational leadership role, worked for greater resourcing of Christian education at the local church and denominational levels.

        Finally, Ellyson’s Theological Compend (1908), later replaced by Doctrinal Studies (1936), provided a basic theology for generations of future ministers in the Church of the Nazarene, in their course of study leading to ordination (including this writer’s father!), as well as for teachers in the local church. Tyson notes that Theological Compend was the first systematic theology produced in the American holiness movement. Doctrinal Studies also served as a text for one of the courses in Ellyson’s teacher training program.

        “Probably when the influences of Dr. Ellyson’s life are all gathered up his work as Sunday school editor will be found to have been the very best service that he has been permitted to render for God and for the church” (Chapman 146). Through Ellyson’s leadership (1923 – 1938) the denomination’s number of Sunday schools grew by 111%, enrollment by 246%, and attendance by 270% (Nease, 3). In his valedictory address Ellyson asserted that Christian religious education is “a work that is second to none in greatness and importance of all the work of the world” (Will of God, 6).


        • Ellyson, E. P. (1924, Nov. 5). “Teacher training.” Herald of Holiness, XIII, 9.
        • Ellyson, E. P. (1932). Doctrinal studies. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House. 
        • Ingersol, Stan. (2009). Nazarene roots. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press). 
        • Chapman, J.B. (1926). History of the Church of the Nazarene
        • Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House. Ellyson, E.P. (1924, Sept. 10),“Graded Lessons in the Sunday School”, Herald of Holiness, XIII, 6. 
        • Ellyson, E. P. (1934). The teaching agency of the church, 3rd ed. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House). 
        • Ellyson, E. P. (1938). This is the will of God: Christian religious education
        • Ellyson, E. P. (1939). A study of the teacher. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House (5th ed., Rev.).
        • Tyson, J. R. (1990). “Ellyson, Edgar P.” in Dictionary of Christianity in America. Inter-Varsity Press.



        • (1905/1908). Theological compend. Chicago: The Christian Witness Company.
        • (1909). God’s man from Tishbi.
        • (1910/1938). Bible holiness. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House,.
        • (1913). The Bible in education. Kansas City: Publishing House of Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
        • (1925). The church school: Its organization and administration. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1929/1939). A study of the teacher. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1930) A study of the pupil (with H. Orton Wiley). Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1930). The pastor and his Sunday school responsibility. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1931) The principles of teaching (with H. O. Wiley). Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1934) The teaching agency of the church. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House (3rd ed. Rev.).
        • (1935). Pentecost. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • (1936). Doctrinal studies. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.


        • (n.d.). Is man an animal?
        • (n.d.). “The light of the world,” in Twentieth century holiness sermons. (Louisville, KY: Pentecostal Publishing Company)
        • (n.d.). Helps on Daniel.
        • (1896). Holding out – Written especially for young converts. Cincinnati: N.W. Knapp.
        • (1904). Ye must: or Some Bible imperatives.
        • (1908). With Christ at prayer. Peniel, TX: Pentecostal Herald.
        • (ca. 1933). The will of God: Christian religious education. Kansas City: Church of the Nazarene.

        Selected Articles (Non-academic)

        • 1924. Our educational problems. Herald of Holiness, 13 (7/2), 8.
        • 1924. Our educational problems. Herald of Holiness, 13 (7/16), 9.
        • 1926. Building the Sunday school. Bible School Teacher’s Journal, 16, 4-6.
        • 1935. Devotional Bible reading. Bible School Journal, 25, 2.

        Works about the Person

        • Akers, Lyle Everette. (1953). The life and works of E.P. and M. Emily Ellyson. Unpublished B.D. Thesis, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO.

        Excerpts from Publications

        (1939). A study of the teacher. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.

        “The most important factor in teaching, next to the divine help, is the personal character of the teacher…. We are not in any way overstating the case when we say that the church school teacher who would succeed must give first attention to his character, to what he is. His influence must be thoroughly Christian. This means that his birth flesh nature will not do, he must be changed, he must be converted and be made a Christian through divine grace. A profession will not do, putting on an outward appearance will not do, there can be no substitute for the genuine experience. The necessary church school atmosphere cannot be created by any but a Christian. He must open up his personality fully to the divine person, to His indwelling and mastery, that he may be made a partaker of the divine nature and give forth an influence that is like that of the Master. Where the likeness to the Master is missing it is failure. Not only should he be converted, he should also be baptized with the Holy Spirit…. The task of the church school teacher is such that it is rather presumptuous for one to attempt it without special divine help.” (43-45)

        “Every teacher must know something of human nature in general – of general psychology, and of the characteristics of human life in the various age periods – of special group psychology. Teachers often fail, not because of their ignorance of the Bible, but because of their failure to know and understand their pupils. This has especially been a fault of the past, which we are now to some extent correcting.” (119)

        (1929). The teaching agency of the church. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.

        “… while the Holy Spirit’s leadership means much it does not make special training unnecessary…. The church school is the most serious educational work with which man has to do. If preparation is a wise requirement for any work, certainly it can be of no less importance for this work. To secure efficiency of administration and safe teaching in the church school a thorough course of study as preparatory to the work should be required of both officers and teacher. Dr. Athearn says ‘The average teacher is untrained when he begins his work in the church school, and the average church offers him no opportunity for training after he begins.’ This is criminal neglect. If training is necessary to the success of the work of the church, and if others cannot give the specialized training for church workers, it is imperative upon the church to provide this training and create as great interest in this training work as is possible.” (158-162)

        (1930). A study of the pupil. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House. [co-author: H. Orton Wiley].

        “What then is the true objective of Christian religious education? Yes it is the pupil, but it is more; it centers in personality, but it is a certain kind or type of personality. It has been well said that ‘the law of the school is the need of the pupil,’ for the church school especially the religious need. The objective of the church school is spiritual or Christian personality, the strongest possible Christian personality. This is to be reached through both crises and growth. Hence it is a growing Christian personality that is to result in ‘a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13). The successful church school teacher must do more than instruct, more than impart knowledge; he must do more than train his pupils to correct habits and behavior, an animal may be trained in habits and behavior; he must do more than inspire his pupils to service, an animal may be trained to work and serve; it is character, Christian personality that results in Christian living and serving, that we are seeking. Only one real test can be made of the teacher’s success. This test is, what kind of person is he helping his pupil to become.” (9)


        • Ellyson, E.P. (1913). The Bible in education. Kansas City: Publishing House of Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
        • Ellyson, E.P. (1929/1939). A study of the teacher. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • Ellyson, E.P. (1930) A study of the pupil (with H. Orton Wiley). Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
        • Ellyson, E.P. (1934) The teaching agency of the church. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House (3rd ed. Rev.).

        Author Information

        Clair Allen Budd

        Clair Allen Budd received his B.A. in Sociology from Eastern Nazarene College in 1974, M.R.E. (1979) from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. in Education (1989) with an emphasis in religious education from Oregon State University. He was Professor of Christian Ministries and chair of the Department of Christian Studies and Philosophy (now retired) at Asbury University for 32 years. He is an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene.